Piedmont is tucked away in northwest Italy among some of the world’s finest wine regions. Here is the home of more Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wines than any Italian province.
Some distinguished wines include Barolo, Barbera d ’Asti and Barbaresco. Piedmont has had a fantastic success story in the last decade with the white, sweet, and sparkling Moscato d ‘Asti.
Wine connoisseurs describe Piedmont as its Burgundy of Italy, a known quality thanks to several small-scale family-owned and operated wineries, focusing on quality, almost bordering on obsession.
History of The Wines of Piedmont
The wines of Piedmont have an extensive history, starting with the Celtic-Ligurian peoples who lived in the area around the sixth century BC and practiced viticulture.
In the Middle Ages, wine cultivation shifted to more suitable vines for the region. Barbesino, now called Grignolino.
In the 19th century, Piedmontese wines took on a different character because of the Nebbiolo grapes. Barolo arrived in 1830, and later, Barbaresco gained recognition.
After World Wars in the 1900s, viticulture was abandoned, sharply reducing the number of hectares cultivating wine grapes.
In the 1980s, wine production returned to Piedmont, inspired by the production methods of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Today, the region produces more balanced and elegant wine, away from the rustic and austere of the past.
Terroir of Piedmont
Piedmont’s name means pied for foot and mont for mountain, as it rests at the foot of the Western Alps, encircling its western and northern sides.
The Apennines and Alps are important to Piedmont, with all the neighboring terroir. They cause the region’s favorable climate and, historically, presented a certain height of protection from any cold fronts.
The soils of Piedmont are composed of calcium-rich marl, clay, and sand. However, there are distinct variations in the soil which influence the style of wine.
The soil that contributes to the finest wines, Barbaresco and Barolo, has predominately calcareous marl and lime-rich clay soil.
Piedmont is a classic and traditional viticultural region thanks to the region’s worldwide distinction and fame.
Piedmont regularly updates their winemaking technologies, which is why this region stays more viticulturally advanced than other Italian regions.
Subregions of Piedmont
The predominant viticultural land of Piedmont is in a broad surrounding area of the towns called Asit and Alba. Around this area, many wine regions overlap, such as Monferrato, Freisa d’Asti, Nizza, Bardera del Monferrato, Brachetto d’Acqui and more.
In the vicinity of Alba are Barbaresco and Barolo’s prestigious red wine regions, the personification of the Nebbiolo grape.
Stretching outwards is the Moscato d’Asti DCOG. On the edges is the Collina Torinese DOCG, covering the hills directly southeast of Turin.
Also, there is Dolcetto di Ovada and Gavi that borders Emilia-Romagna the location of Colli Tortonesi.
Grapes of Piedmont
What the French Burgundy does with Pinot Noir, the Italian Piedmont does with Nebbiolo. It’s not the region, but mostly it’s the broadly planted grape.
The grape has had the most extensive influence on Piedmont’s high-quality and reputable wine. Nebbiolo is behind four DOCGs: Barbaresco and Barolo (Italy’s finest reds), Gattinara and Roero.
Nebbiolo wine has a reputation for its tar and roses bouquet and robust tannins, making the grapes unapproachable during their youth while guaranteeing their excellent aging of wine potential.
Also known as Spanna in north and east, ten local wineries, Denominazione di Origine Controllatas (DOC), use Nebbiolo grapes, including Fara, Carema and Nebbiolo d’Alba.
Here are the dark-skin grapes from the Monferrato hills, Piedmont’s most used and planted grape in the region.
Since the beginning, winemakers have used Barbera to make everyday wines under the DOC titles. Today, winemakers use Barbera grapes, ranging in styles and approaches with oak maturation.
The vineyards of Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato, and Barbera d’Alba are the classic Italian style of Barbarea. You’ll taste the sour cherry-scented reds and tangy with acidity with moderate complexity.
The tannic is less astringent than Nebbiolo, but Barbera wines are marketable and enjoyable within one to two years of vintage. Hence, it gives these wines a competitive edge in the impatient and fast-paced wine market.
For this reason, Barbera has become popular with wineries and consumers.
Dolcetto is the third red grape growing in Piedmont. There are three DOCGs and several DOCs dedicated to this classification. The top three:
- Diano d’Alba
- Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore
Dolcetto means “little sweet one,” but the winemakers make dry red wines with a fulfilling, gently biting finish.
Dolcetto lacks the attention his cousins, Barbera and Nebbiolo, receive, so the grape lacks complexity and refinement.
Other Grape Varieties of Piedmont
A worthy mention is Brachetto for sweet, sparkling reds from The Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG. Freisa is another wonder with a broad portfolio as dry and sweet. Still, the sparkling red wines come from Chieri and Asti.
Piedmont grows produces some excellent white wine styles. The crowd-pleaser Moscato d’Asti and less known Asti Spumante.
These two come from Moscato grapes harvested near Asti. Other white grapes include Cortese, Arneis, and Erbaluce. Erbaluce is worthy of mention thanks to its 300 percent increase in Piedmont’s white wine production.
Some wineries have experimented with new varieties such as Viognier and every-lasting Chardonnay. You’ll always taste the old world in the wines from this territory.
The Top Wines of Piedmont, Italy
- Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, Barolo Riserva – Nebbiolo
- Gaja Barbaresco – Nebbiolo
- Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Nebbiolo
- Giulia Negri Serradenari Barolo – Nebbiolo
- Giacomo Conterno Francia Barolo – Nebbiol
- G. B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero – Nebbiolo
1. Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, Barolo Riserva
The highly acclaimed Giacomo Conterno Winery is outside Monforte d’Alba, south of the Barolo DOCG. Vineyards produced the wine with many of its vintages at $2,000 a bottle. The wine goes on the market only when it’s an exceptional year.
Some older vintages may have “Riserva Speciale” on the label. For the most part, the young bottles need to age.
Once aged, you’ll experience a lively, iridescent red and luminous color without impenetrable hues. The nose is intense as if compressed into a huge sensory package about to explode. Some wine experts monitor the wine from when it’s in the barrel with feedback saying it’s gnarly.
The wine penetrates the senses with fragrances of minerals, eucalyptus and ripe red fruit. The palate experiences a lineup of tannins. Some say if you drink it too early, it’s still rough and needs maturing. Acidity is harsh, though it’s a marvel for the palate with seemingly violent battles.
Overall, the wine is impressive, with an average score of 96/100.
2. Gaja Barbaresco
Many critics have rated the Gaja Barbaresco extremely high. One critic noted the 2017 vintage is fragrant and refined, adding it opens with a heady nose of rose petals, wild berry, underbrush, and camphor.
The bright and ruby-core shows a hint of garnet on the glass rim. Notes are savory with roses, cloves, and juicy cherry. The sophisticatedly structured and polished palate gives a ripe Marasca cherry, star anise, and blood orange framed in tight, fine-grained tannins.
Supple and round fruit concentration on the palate opens further with vibrant, crisp tannins, joining fresh acidity with a firm dive at the finish.
It pairs well with lamb as a red, savory classic and with the complexity of a broad spectrum of flavors.
The Barbaresco won some awards, such as Spectator Top 10 Award for the 1997 vintage, hitting 50. The 1985 vintage won the same award, at number 20.
It’s the third most famous wine from Piedmont.
3. Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
Established in 1918, Cantina Mascarello Bartolo is a respected wine producer, and the estate brought prominence to the area.
Up until 1980, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo had on the label “Cantina Mascarello,” but since 1982, the label only says “Bartolo Mascarello.”
The wine comes from the Barolo region, receiving reverence as one of three wines honored with DOCG status in 1980, the day of classification. You can pair this wine with lamb, beef, pork, and roasted chicken.
The nose senses dark spice, camphor, cedar, and a bit of sun-warmed hay. The full-bodied palate brags weightless finesse and includes an excellent depth of flavors with ripe Morello cherry, star anise, crushed raspberry, and a hint of tobacco. It ends with refined but firm tannins.
The wine won some awards, such as the 2008 vintage received Golden Star from Vinibuoni d’Italia. The 2010 vintage won Wine Spectator Top 100 as number 50.
It’s the second most popular piedmont wine.
4. Giulia Negri Serradenari Barolo
Many prestigious critics gave this Barolo wine a high rating. The Giulia Negri Serradenari Barolo is one of the most famous wines from the area.
Of late, as a red savory and classic wine, its popularity has climbed to becoming an even more renowned wine.
The 2017 vintage is simple and firm, with an intense nose of scorched earth and toasted nut aromas. It mingles with spice, lifting upwards.
The linear palate brings sour cherry to the surface with allspice, blood orange, and hazelnut. The closed-grained tannins produce a grippy finish, suggesting you let the wine age, so the tannins no longer grip.
If you drink it sooner, you’ll catch its pleasant fruit sensations.
5. Giacomo Conterno Francia Barolo
Once labeled “Cascina Francia” until the 2009 vintage, you may find the wine as a Riserva, worth enjoying as an excellent vintage.
Giacomo Conterno holds a powerful position as an acclaimed Barolo producer harvesting wine grapes near Monforte d’Alba, south of the Barolo DOCG zone. The winery received accolades for its Cascina Francia and Monfortino Riserva.
Giacomo Conterno Francia Barolo is the third most searched wine in the region, according to Wine Searcher.
As a red, savory classic, the wine is among the highest-priced Barolo wines. In fact, for over two years, its price has trended upward.
Most critics praise the wine as an excellent dinner companion, giving the wine a score of 94.
6. G. B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero
G.B. Burlotto is a boutique winery, a small estate in the Piedmont region as part of the village of Verduno, known for its high-quality Nebbiolo variety. Monvigliero vineyard produces one of the supreme Barolos wines in the area.
In the central arena and tucked away among the rolling hills, the vineyard consists of 2.02 hectares and about 5 acres, planted five times (1958, 1987, 1992, and 2015). Exposure is entirely south, with an altitude of 300 meters.
The 2016 vintage received Wine Spectator Top 100 reward at 63. The Wine Enthusiast magazine gave this Barolo wine a 98/100 score.